Hebrew National hot dogs with mustard and relish

Hebrew National Hot Dogs may answer to a Higher Authority, but for the time being they’ll also be answering to the United States District Court of Minnesota.  Hebrew National Hot Dogs which are owned by ConAgra Foods, Inc. has been sued in a class action Complaint (pdf download) which alleges that it utilized deceptive and misleading labeling by representing that Hebrew National hot dogs are strictly 100% kosher in violation of applicable consumer protection statutes.  The suit claims that ConAgra’s kosher meat producer, AER Services, improperly slaughtered and did not maintain the slaughter house in accordance with Kosher laws by, among other things, using knives which were nicked thus preventing a clean cut as mandated by Kosher law and by failing to keep kosher meat separate from non-kosher meat.

The suit contains causes of action for:

  1. negligence;
  2. violation of state consumer protection acts;
  3. breach of express and/or implied warranty; and,
  4. breach of implied warranty of merchantability/fitness for a particular use.

The suit further alleges that employees of AER Services raised concerns about the procedures at the slaughter house, but those concerns were dismissed and the employees were either threatened with retaliation or fired.  None of the employees are named in the suit.

Hebrew National hot dogs are certified as Kosher by Triangle K, the Kosher Food Supervision and Certification Agency which is based in New York.  Neither Triangle K nor AER Services are named as Defendants in the Complaint.  In statements, Triangle K and AER Services have all denied that the allegations.  ConAgra which successfully removed this action to Federal Court has untilJuly 13, 2012to answer.  In response to the suit, ConAgra issued a press release which states that…

for more than 100 years, Hebrew National has followed strict dietary law, using only specific cuts of beef that meet the highest standards for quality, cleanliness, and safety with no by-products, artificial flavors, or artificial colors.”

Some states have statutes which regulate the labeling of Kosher food.  See e.g., the New York Kosher Law Protection Act of 2004.  We expect the Food and Drug Administration as well as other states to issue additional regulations pertaining to such advertising given the increased production and distribution of other religiously significant food products.  Food manufacturers and distributors should follow these regulations closely, as failing to follow them can be costly.  One recent suit brought in Orange County California against Super King Market subsequently settled for $527,000.  In that suit,  Super King allegedly improperly sold generic meat as halal meat, or that which follows Islamic law.